PRB Articles


Sharing Space

By and large, public swimming pools across the nation are underutilized commodities that are expensive to maintain, manage, staff, and program. General-admission fees alone rarely cover the overhead required, leaving cities and operators with the burden of subsidizing.

Revenue-generating strategies are frequently discussed among pool personnel. With sustainability and facility use at the forefront of these conversations, it has become imperative to come up with innovative and surefire ways to reduce expenses and capitalize on the benefits of aquatic space.

Well-managed pool space has the potential to creatively offer something for everyone while simultaneously strengthening the bottom line. Resourcefulness, innovation, and some healthy outside-the-box thinking are the keys to making this possible.

Consider A Broader Audience

Horizontal lap swimmers consume the largest amount of pool space and receive the most consideration at a typical pool. They are young and old, they are frequently available to swim at any time of day, and when swim teams are involved, they can easily crowd large volumes of space. But pool operators who hope to increase income and reach revenue projections while improving or maintaining sustainability must consider a broader audience than simply the horizontal, general-admission swimmers.

Partners, in the form of space renters, marketers, programmers, concessionaires, and sponsors, must become the new audience. If revenue is to increase so public swimming pools can become sustainable and remain operational in these days of tight budgets and inflated technology, the days of a single operator providing all space-use selections under one program umbrella are over.

Making The Shift

Bringing change to this single-operator approach, however, is challenging for both the programmer and the user. It requires a shift in the aquatic culture, the infrastructure, and the staffing philosophy.

The new aquatic culture must include certain elements:

  • Flexibility
  • Shared space
  • Partnerships
  • Diverse demographics
  • Safety.

When water space is simultaneously shared by more than one type of user, doing different types of activities, the space takes on unique dynamics. For example, it is possible that, at the same time, one section of pool space could contain a water-aerobics class while a masters group is being coached in a different section of the pool. And lap swimmers might be doing their thing, while an instructor is teaching swim lessons to physically disabled children in one half of the shallow end, and scuba training is taking place in the other half of the shallow end.  

In this example, each group may feasibly be renting space at the same time (depending on the pool size and shape) and provide instructors for their own programs. This scenario leaves pool staff only responsible for setting the appropriate pool space with lane lines, buoyed ropes or equipment; life-guarding the activities; and managing the rental contracts. The bulk of the programming required in the single-operator approach is now passed onto the partners. A partnership culture like this creates a much appreciated "something for everyone" environment, and the swimming pool quickly becomes a hub of activity.

The infrastructure required to manage partner-based pool space includes various elements, such as a scheduling system for the space as well as the staff members, adequate pool and deck equipment, efficient administration structures, and lots of communication. 

Scheduling

The scheduling system becomes deeply important to the management, partners, and employees. All three of these entities must understand the space and time available, as well as how the space and time will be used. Plotting out pool space on an Excel spreadsheet or on an Internet-based program works well, but please note—it is important that all the players understand how to navigate within the format chosen. 

Scheduling appropriate staff members to manage and oversee pool use becomes vitally important as well. Deck management, lifeguards, and customer-service personnel need to be in the right place at the right time when engaging with a multi-use facility. All staff members must be prepared to adjust and be flexible when necessary. It is important that lifeguards are able to scan zones of multiple uses. At any given time, a busy shared-space pool might have both horizontal and vertical swimmers participating in organized activities and general-use, independent activities simultaneously. Lifeguards must be competent in scanning and in safety.

Equipment

Pool and deck equipment, such as lane lines, lifeguard chairs, water polo goals, bulkheads, etc., are all part of creating a space that works. Depending on the size and shape of the pool, equipment of all sorts can be used to section the water into creative plots for multiple partners to enjoy. Transitioning the pool from one use to another requires effective scheduling, strong communication, and adequate staff.

Administrative Support

Efficient administrative support is another necessary part of the infrastructure in a shared-space facility. Revenue is frequently collected in the form of space rentals. User agreements and insurance binders are part of the process required in securing use. Creating user agreements, establishing adequate insurance levels, invoicing partners, and following through in the way of signatures and collection are part of the administrator’s job.  

Communication

Clearly, strong communication is a key component in creating effective transitions and operating a multi-use facility. Communication, in this type of busy environment, must be two-way. Communicating becomes more involved than merely dictating what needs to happen. It becomes as much about listening and problem-solving together.  In a partner-rich environment, the partners as well as staff members and management will have opinions, ideas, and requests that require a listening ear occasionally, a solution, and sometimes a new focus.

Staffing Changes

The staffing philosophy changes some when considering a partner-based, multi-use aquatic environment. It moves from a lifeguard-focused staff to a more diverse workforce. However, the lifeguards and leadership for the guards remain a priority. Safety and safety training must always be at the forefront of any aquatic facility.

In addition to the necessary lifeguard staff, someone overseeing the pool-space scheduling, invoicing, contract administration, and partner communications is a must. Direct oversight in this capacity keeps the program running smoothly and the revenue on target. 

Facility maintenance personnel must also become a top priority. When pool space is transitioned multiple times a day and bather loads threaten capacity, well-prepared personnel keep the pool(s) operational. Chemicals out of balance, an inoperable filter, or even a broken piece of deck equipment can result in space closure, which further results in lost revenue.  Well-trained maintenance personnel can, hopefully, prevent this from happening.

Marketing and promotional assistance, customer-service representation, and accounting personnel are also important parts of a multi-use, partner-based staffing philosophy. Creating this culture takes a strong internal and external marketing component. Attracting new partnerships and keeping existing ones is part of the revenue equation. Intentional customer service becomes necessary because the clientele in this model is so varied. Well-trained representatives do a great deal in assisting with direction and communication. Additionally, accounting personnel make collecting receivables, disbursing payables, and keeping a strong paper trail possible.

With some creativity, well-managed pool space has the potential to offer something for everyone while focusing on sustainability and strengthening the bottom line. Resourcefulness, innovation, and some healthy outside-the-box thinking is the key to making it possible.

Karen Creasey is the Aquatic Manager for the Palm Desert Aquatic Center in California. Reach her at kcreasey@desertymca.org or visit www.pdpool.com.

Lean And Green

Lean And Green

Joining Forces

0